The English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) introduced the first form of what are known as the "discretionary sanction" (DS) in 2009. From then until 2011 this developed into the system that was used until last Sunday, 4 May, when the 12 active arbitrators unanimously passed a motion replacing all DS provisions with an updated procedure. The new DS regime, called Discretionary sanctions (2014), is the result of an elaborate review process involving both the community, since last September, and the committee, for more than a year.
The Signpost understands that the DS system was and still is a response to the overwhelming task of managing the wars that flare up on many articles on "hot-button" areas of knowledge—typically those that are ideological, cultural, racial, and scientific flashpoints in human society. The English Wikipedia is especially vulnerable to these wars because it receives about 40% of the page-visits and 40% of the edits of the 290 language Wikipedias; this tends to attract people who want their views to prevail on the global stage. In recent years the site's judicial and administrative resources have struggled to cope with the chaos and personal nastiness that can ensue when foes meet on that stage.
Under the old approach (which is not easy to grasp from the text), any editor, or ArbCom itself, could place a DS template on the talkpage of another editor participating at a DS-listed article, exposing that editor to a heightened risk of being banned on the basis of their subsequent activity on the article or its talkpage. This was interpreted by some editors as an unfair and poorly applied millstone around their neck, not helped by language on the template that appeared to blame, and the fact that they typically felt "singled out".
The new approach is a marked shift from this. Now, a newly designed template merely alerts editors to the fact that the article or talkpage they have edited is DS-listed. There is no overt blame in the wording, and the template is issuable by anyone to all editors who edit a DS-listed article or talkpage. This is an attempt to remove any stigma and to avoid catching editors new to the topic, or the site, unawares. To avoid cascades of templating for regular editors of a topic, an editor can receive only one DS alert for a DS-listed topic in a 12-month period. One arbitrator we queried used an analogy with a poorly signed ban on parking in a particular street: "now all motorists on the street are personally alerted to this fact in a polite, neutral way". All that is missing from the updated DS page is a brief lead explaining what discretionary sanctions are.
Since the management of hot-button articles is often prone to gaming, both old and new versions are couched in legalistic terms, as can be seen from the diff of old versus new. Where a DS is actually applied after the informational template has been issued, appeal is via either AN/I, Arbitration enforcement, or directly to ArbCom. If either of the first two is chosen, a further appeal can be made to ArbCom.
The Signpost asked arbitrator AGK to comment on the changes. He told us that he sees three main benefits:
The new system:
Protects editors—by redressing the imbalance between them and admins. Enforcing admins are now required by the system to take sensible, proportionate decisions. Appeals are more streamlined and notices of discretionary sanctions—previously confrontational and tactless—have been rebranded and rewritten.
Protects admins—by centralising all authoritative, relevant procedures and clearly setting out what we look for in their decisions. Admins can participate in AE with more confidence, which will help this badly understaffed noticeboard.
Protects articles—by streamlining the haphazard mess that was the old system, making enforcement less laborious—and disruptive editing easier to head off. Also, by protecting editors, the system makes the affected articles less untouchable; some were previously no-go areas.
ArbCom involvement in the process has also been reduced. We clarified the glaring ambiguities in the old system and centralised procedures that were strewn across many pages.
"The system is now fit for purpose," AGK said, "and less intimidating and dense, so people won't need to turn to ArbCom once a week, asking for clarifications. The alerts system is now also automatically logged. MediaWiki keeps a record of all ArbCom alerts issued, so editors no longer need to keep hundreds of logs updated."
This film from the Buchenwald concentration camp was taken shortly after it was liberated from Nazi German forces. The still frame of several stacked bodies, featured on Commons' main page on 8 May, can be seen at 4:10.
Commons and dead bodies: The Wikimedia Commons' media of the day for 8 May, featured on a main page that is seen by over 80,000 people each day, showed a still frame (Editor's note: contains graphic material) of dead bodies from a broader video of the Buchenwald concentration camp. An email to the Wikimedia-l mailing list (titled "Commons' frontpage probably shouldn't prominently feature a decontextualised stack of corpses") opined "This isn't the first time that Commons frontpage has featured content that, while often appropriate material to be hosted by Commons, has been framed in an inappropriate way likely to cause dismay, upset, or scandal to the average Wikimedia Commons viewer. It flies in the face of the WMF-board endorsed principle of least astonishment—no one expects to click on Commons' homepage to see a still image of a stack of corpses at Buchenwald." Discussion continues on the mailing list and Commons.
Wikimania: Scholarships have been awarded for Wikimania 2014 in London. Katie Chan, the chair of the Scholarship Committee, told the Signpost via email that compared with previous Wikimanias, "the Wikimedia Foundation has increased the scholarship budget this year", so they were "able to award the largest number of scholarships in the history of Wikimania." However, this year's process did not go off without difficulty: the announcement of scholarship recipients was delayed for about a month, something Chan attributed to an overly ambitious target schedule.
Adrianne: A Wikipedia editor who perished several weeks ago in a rock-climbing accident is continuing to have an impact both in the media and on Wikipedia. The Boston Globe published an editorial where it praised her edits to Wikipedia: "Scholar of British literature Adrianne Wadewitz never appeared on The New York Times bestseller list or on the talk-show circuit, but she probably did more to increase popular understanding of female writers than almost anyone else in her field. ... But her influence was much greater outside academia—as a volunteer editor on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. / Her work will help ensure that information on women’s contributions to literature, philosophy, and even, in a piece she finished just before her death, rock climbing is at the world’s fingertips." On Wikipedia, a video of her speaking about the impact of Wikipedia is now featured on the English Wikipedia, and the children's literature portal has been nominated for featured status.
Academics vandalizing Wikipedia: In a piece brazenly titled "Are you an academic who vandalises wikipedia? Then stop it!", Alaric Hall—a lecturer at the University of Leeds and Wikipedia editor since 2005—told an anecdote about an academic colleague who proudly boasted on Facebook about vandalizing Wikipedia's article on Queen Elizabeth II as a demonstration for his students. As Hall goes on to note, "Six minutes (and perhaps twenty views by innocent encyclopedia-readers) later, of course, some upstanding member of society fixed the page (which to me is the real take-home point for this individual’s students)." He asked how ethical it was to purposefully introduce poor or untrue information into a source of knowledge, and whether these actions foster the critical engagement that the professors are presumably going for. This comes on the heels of a study that found that 43% of academics have edited Wikipedia.
Super-spreader student edits reverted, restored: University of Michigan ecologist and professor Meghan Duffy blogged about her experience allowing a student to do her coursework on Wikipedia. As alluded to in the title, it did not go well. The student's edits to super-spreader were reverted by the page's creator with comments that the professor described as "hostile", despite at least one Wikipedian seeing them as "better". It was only when other editors picked up on the blog post and Hacker News that the majority of the student's edits were restored, leading Duffy to comment:
Seniority means a lot at Wikipedia. When discussing this with others, it sounds like, unless a senior Wikipedia editor steps in to help my student, the other editor is likely to be successful in keeping my students edits off the page. This is a really disappointing outcome. ...
Moreover, I feel somewhat responsible for putting my student in a situation in which she is being bullied. ... My impression is that this sort of bullying is not common, but it also sounds like it's not rare. Right now, I'm not sure how to weigh all these different things. I'm glad that, thanks to my teaching schedule for the immediate future, it's not something I'll have to decide right away. And, in the meantime, I guess I'll see how this plays out.
Wiki Loves Earth: An international photography competition modeled on Wiki Loves Monuments has started. Wiki Loves Earth aims to encourage contributors to upload photographs on natural heritage sites. It runs until the end of May.
Wikimedia Foundation, movement entities
FDC assessments: Staff assessments for the Funds Dissemination Committee's second annual round have been published on Meta. Of note is the Wikimedia Foundation's proposal, which includes no funding requests and was reviewed by a movement entity that it itself funds (Wikimedia Germany).
New data center: The Foundation's data center, which has been fully or partially hosted in Florida since its founding, will finally leave the state in favor of CyrusOne in Dallas, Texas. Mark Bergsma, Director of Technical Operations and Lead Operations Architect, stated that "The CyrusOne bid met our key requirements at a very competitive price. It is a modern and large facility with a highly redundant and efficient power and cooling infrastructure. In addition, the state of Texas maintains an independent power grid, which may be beneficial in case of major power issues affecting our Ashburn facility."
Hovercards: Inspired by the long-time Navigation popups Wikipedia feature, "hovercards" are in beta and available for trial by logged-in users. According to Wikimedia Highlights, hovercards are "brief previews of a Wikipedia article or other wiki page, displayed when the reader hovers over a link to that page. The preview consists of the lead paragraph and first image of the article."
Pirelli: A suspicious video titled "Cracking Wikipedia" appeared on the Ads of the World website, claiming to have promoted Pirelli, a tire manufacturing company, by replacing images on Wikipedia articles with similar items that include Pirelli logos in the background. Yet neither the Signpost, nor any readers of our Twitter post, has found any article on the English, Spanish, or Portuguese Wikipedias where such a replacement was done; this appears to have been a proposal or a simple mockup. An emailed inquiry to Havas Digital, the advertising agency listed as being behind the video, was quickly acknowledged but not substantively responded to within a week's time. (Editor's note: public access to the video was blocked after the publication of this article. In anticipation of such a move, the Signpost has stored a copy of the video, which originally appeared on the Ads of the World website here and on Youtube here.)